Wednesday's Book: Promises Lovers Make When It Gets Late by Darian Leader

The last time I saw my ex-lover, he made a sweeping promise to always and ever be good to me. About an hour later he was, metaphorically speaking, beating the hell out of me. The episode bears sublime witness to the thesis of Darian Leader's second book-length meditation on the paradoxes attending sexual love. Once uttered, a promise virtually promises to be broken. As Leader says: "A promise might seem like a blessing, but at its horizon is more often a farewell than a future."

We're back again in the land of Why Do Women Write More Letters Than They Post?, a best-seller whose relative difficulty attests to the perpetual yearning for guidance on love. It is a world mapped out by Freud, Lacan and a Leader fave, where expectations of human happiness are, to say the least, low, and the rules are most often achieved by inverting what we think of as reality. It is at times madly irritating. But we are all the inheritors of Freud; and the simplicities of, say, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, which proposes that men and women really do inhabit different planets (though they might just hail from the same solar system) leaves an even grimmer Hobbesian after-taste.

Leader is a psychoanalyst and it is unsurprising that he loathes self- help books, which he claims are less complex than manuals for electronic goods. His method is not prescriptive but suggestive, not linear but associative.

While Why Do Women? managed to create a coherent pattern from references as diverse as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jane Austen and Ernest Jones, Promises has a much harder time in distinguishing the kind-hearted, playful and only slightly self-regarding authorial juggler from the wedding guest with the glittering eye who will insist on telling his story, whatever the matter to hand. Thus, in 20 or so pages, we leap, trampling over synapses, holding up our skirts with safety pins, from Liz Hurley's Versace dress as worn by Divine and what that says about assuming the image of another woman, to a recurring discussion on why men need to split women into idealised and degraded images (it has to do with Mom). We then fling ourselves further out on a limb with the Spice Girls (sameness but difference) which leads to mother and daughters (ditto but complicated) and on to the Merry Wives of Windsor, after which we fall back on two Leaderean preoccupations, Daphne du Maurier and Freud's Dora. Eventually, Leader will cry, with decreasing conviction: "Which bring us back to the theme of promises."

Does Leader's title promise a book about promises? And, if so, has the act of making the promise rendered it null and void? Does it matter that he touches only lightly on the subject when he throws up so much else of interest? And in throwing up (of course, I use the term deliberately) so very much, is it important that the connective tissue fails to sustain the whole? This is a question of individual preference.

Faber & Faber, pounds 9.99.

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